Tough Mudder – The Ultimate Science Of… Result
Months ago we posted the “Ultimate Science of” challenge. I pledged to complete ‘Tough Mudder’ in an effort to re-enact many of the things we see in games in real life. Well, last weekend I donned my combat armour and suffered freezing temperatures, gruelling physical challenges, and even 10,000 volt electric shocks. Here’s what happened, and more importantly how it’s changed my view of gaming.
Ice, Ice, Baby
Have you ever been so cold you can’t breathe? How about so cold that not only can you not breathe, but it feels like every muscle and sinew in your body is convulsing and tensing involuntarily? The ‘Arctic Enema’ challenge required me to jump into a vat of iced water, then swim beneath said water past an obstacle, before resurfacing and climbing out of it. I’ve swam through ice-water in Skyrim, how hard could it be?
Getting in the ice was soul-destroying. It felt like nothing in my body was working – I couldn’t breathe, I could barely move, and everything inside me was screaming for me to get out. But I had nowhere to go but forwards (then downwards). Then it got a whole lot worse.
Swimming under the ice, and under an obstacle was terrifying. It was pitch black in the water, and I was so numb that the only sensation I could feel was the distant rumbling of more people jumping in. Wanting to avoid a collision, I made the mistake of rushing it. This landed me under the obstacle, confused as to which direction was forwards, and losing oxygen. I reached upward only to feel the solid underside of the obstacle, making me feel trapped.
It only lasted a split second, but in that moment I felt a terror I’ve never experienced before. It may seem pathetic when you think that I’m surrounded by hundreds people and safety ‘experts’, but 200,000 years of evolutionary instinct were screaming at me, telling me I was in mortal danger. Of course, I eventually made it through, but I’ve learned to take ice more seriously. The notion that your hero in Skyrim can run through the icy northern waters – even swim through them in full armour – now seems ludicrous to me.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve walked up to a wall in a game and hit “jump”, hoping the character could climb over it, only for him to stand there with a blank expression, I’d… well, be American. But seriously, There are so many times in a game I’ve thought, “I could jump over that wall, why couldn’t he?” Tough Mudder gave me my answer.
There were two specific wall-mounting events: Berlin Walls and Blades of Glory. The former were standard 10-foot-high wooden fences. The latter were the same, but depressed towards you; imagine a fence half-blown over by the wind, with the wind blowing towards you. Mounting them was god-damn difficult – even with assistance from my burly 6’ team-mates.
I can now honestly say that it would be almost impossible to climb multiple walls taller than yourself without completely tiring yourself out, and probably hurting yourself. That’s if you can reach the top at all. I’d trained intensely for 6 months, and after two walls I was shattered. And that’s with help.
How Nathan Drake does what he does in Uncharted is beyond me. He must have fingers capable of withstanding third-base with the female cast of Jersey Shore. And that’s saying something. I’m not sure whether experiencing this for myself will grant me a new-found respect for these characters, or simply shatter my suspense of disbelief.
Heaven is a Half-Pipe
One of my favourite maps on Call of Duty Black Ops 2 is Grind – the beautifully colourful skate-park shootout. It’s a half-pipe paradise, and many of these curved ramps allow the player to gracefully hop up them to take a vantage point. Seems easy. I got the opportunity to try it for real with “Everest”, an enormous, slippery quarter pipe we had to scale.
It turns out that this one is pretty easy – with a caveat. The temptation is to run up the slope and lean forwards to ‘grab’ the top. In reality, the best way to do it is to relax and focus on running, and only change your posture after you’ve reached the top. Sounds simple, but many people failed to reach the top without assistance. Thanks to training and technique, my team-mate and I were able to do it without breaking a sweat.
The events that most people are scared of when they enter Tough Mudder are the two electricity-based events – Electric Eel and Electroshock therapy. The eel challenge has you crawl through cold, muddy water with randomly dotted live electric wires dangling into it. Touch or go near a wire, and you get a jolt. The Final challenge requires you to run through a corridor with a web of 10,000 volt electric wires hanging down. These are unavoidable, and they hurt. The challenge gave me a new-found respect for characters that make their way through in-game mine fields. The terror you feel when you know that intense pain is only a few centimetres away, and that there’s nothing you can do but move forward and hope for the best is something that I won’t forget. Whether or not this will make me more patient through those often-tedious sections of the game is another matter, though.
Leap of Faith
How hard can it be to jump off of something, so long as you know there’s deep water below you to break your fall? The answer – pretty ruddy difficult. We were only jumping from a height of ~20-30 feet, and I can tell you that it was not a pleasant experience. If you’ve never jumped from a diving board or anything that high, let me try and explain what happens to you when you do.
Here’s where I get all scientific – acceleration due to gravity happens at roughly 9.8 meters/second squared. That’s science-talk for “you’ll accelerate towards the ground at an extra ten meters per second for every second you fall”. This is important because most ‘falls’ normal people take – like jumping down the last couple of stairs, or hopping off of a bus – are vastly shorter than even one second.
So you’re familiar with the sensation of ‘falling’ at speeds of around 0-5 meters per second. Even though the large drop at Tough Mudder only lasts 2-3 seconds, gravity finally gets to show you what it can do. For the first split second after leaping you think “this isn’t so bad”, because you’re used to it. But once you go past 5m/s and hit 10, then 15 m/s, your puny human brain starts panicking. And there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s like being on a rollercoaster – only you’re not strapped into anything, and you’re about to slam into a muddy lake.
I’m probably over-stating the obvious here, but I have never dived off of anything taller than myself, so this feeling was new to me. It’s one I wouldn’t choose to feel again, and I can now say I don’t envy Ezio leaping from church spires.
From Shawshank Redemption to Battlefield, people crawling through pipes are a fairly ubiquitous plot device for action-based entertainment. They could be ceiling vents, or sewage pipes – it’s always given me a sense of claustrophobia. Again – what’s it like to do it for real?
Here’s the set-up – I’m crawling through a pipe less than a meter in diameter, and as I move along it’s slowly filling up with muddy water as the pipe lowers into a giant puddle, before rising back out of it.
Going into the event I was worried about potential claustrophobia, but as soon as I entered the pipe that worry disappeared. In reality, the thing I ended up most concerned about was how to actually move. Being in a space that small makes it incredibly difficult to crawl forwards, and it’s extremely tiring. My final verdict on this is similar to the quarter-pipes: it’s definitely do-able; all it takes is stamina and good technique.
Just think for a second about all of the experiences I’ve just described. In video games, they’re all reduced to a casual button press. When I think about that now, it makes me realise how much I’m missing out on in playing games. I’ll try and explain what I mean.
Video games are a form of escapism. For me (and I’d guess for you too) they’re the best kind of escapism, owing to their interactivity. It’s all well and good watching Bruce Willis kill Germans in Die Hard, but it makes you want to be a gun-wielding badass yourself. Since doing so in real life isn’t a (legal) option, video games bridge the gap – allowing you to ‘do’ things in a virtual world that you could never do in the real world.
The reason I’m spelling this out is because of the sweet spot games fall into: it’s a metaphorical tug-of-war between wanting to do something exciting (like fly a plane or jump off a high building) and not wanting to do anything physically difficult. This is why things like Kinect remain a novelty – we’re not trying to really play football – that’s what football is for. We just want to sit there and play FIFA with a controller.
While no sane person really wants to shoot someone in real life, there are a few things that happen in games that we take for granted. Take, for example, Ezio leaping from a building in Assassins creed, or Batman receiving electric shocks in the Arkham series but fighting on anyway. When I first scanned through the list of challenges in Tough Mudder, I noticed that the majority of them were things I had seen (and ‘done’) in games, and I wanted to know what it would be like to cross that aforementioned barrier of escapism and do it for real.
Granted, it was bloody tough (and muddy), but it was completely worth it. Just having those sensations and experiences as part of my mind feels like a useful thing. What this whole thing has taught me is that I should learn to view games as being more real. Next time I leap into the ice in Skyrim I’ll wince ever-so-slightly, knowing what that feels like.
Simply put, I’ve achieved exactly what I set out to achieve: deeper immersion into video-games. And that’s well worth the price of the ticket, and all of the training Tough Mudder requires.